If you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, your physician will most likely recommend that you use a CPAP machine to control your symptoms. These machines send pressurized air through tubing that is connected to a specialty breathing mask. The mask delivers air in a way that helps keep breathing passages open throughout the night, reducing the likelihood of sleep apnea incidents.
When used properly, a CPAP machine won’t just help you get a better night’s sleep. It will also help you avoid the harmful long-term consequences of untreated sleep apnea, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Of course, as with any other medical device, getting used to your CPAP machine will take some time. Wearing a CPAP mask while you sleep at night will require a bit of an adjustment.
Though this new medical device may seem a bit confusing at first, using a CPAP machine is relatively straightforward. When you understand how to use it, you can also ensure that it won’t disrupt sleep for you or your partner. Here are a few basics you should know about your CPAP device.
Air Pressure Settings
One of the most important elements of a CPAP machine is its air pressure setting. This is determined by a sleep physician based on the results of your sleep study. Generally speaking, the more severe your sleep apnea, the higher air pressure delivery you will need to keep your airways open during the night.
Most CPAP machines have an operating range from 4 to 20 cmH20. This is suitable for most patients, who typically need a prescribed pressure ranging from 6 to 14 cmH20. However, for those with especially severe sleep apnea, specialty units can offer pressure as high as 30 cmH20.
While a standard CPAP machine will deliver a consistent flow of pressurized air all night, BiPAP and auto-adjusting (APAP or AutoCPAP) devices offer varying pressure levels for greater comfort. A BiPAP machine delivers the prescribed air pressure level during inhalation, and reduces pressure during exhalation for greater comfort. APAP machines monitor the user’s breathing throughout the night and continually adjust the delivered pressure.
Most patients will start with a standard CPAP machine, and only switch to a BiPAP or auto adjusting machine if they are having trouble adjusting to their initial treatment setting. If your prescribed air pressure is too uncomfortable or doesn’t seem to be reducing your number of nightly sleep apnea incidents, speak with your doctor. They can help you determine if you should try a different type of device, or attempt adjusting your pressure settings.
Common Extra CPAP Features
Modern CPAP devices do much more than simply deliver a flow of pressurized air. A host of extra features are now available to streamline treatment and make it easier to use your CPAP machine. While exact features will vary from device to device, many of these can help make your treatment more enjoyable and manageable. Here is a closer look at some of the more common tech features available:
- Humidifiers: Humidifiers are now a standard element of CPAP therapy. By adding moisture to the pressurized air, users are less likely to experience side effects like a dry nose or sore throat. The added humidity also makes nighttime breathing more comfortable by helping the air feel warmer. Some machines come with built-in humidifiers, while others use a separate attachment. Many CPAP machines with humidifier integration also offer climate control settings so you can adjust humidity levels to find the best comfort fit.
- Ramping: Some people find their prescribed air pressure to be uncomfortable, which can make it harder to fall asleep. To counteract this, many CPAP manufacturers now include optional “ramping” functions, which gradually increase air pressure until the user falls asleep. The low initial air pressure makes it easy to fall asleep, and the CPAP machine begins delivering the prescribed level once it detects that the user is asleep.
- Automatic Starting & Stopping: Another optional feature that simplifies the use of a CPAP machine, autostart and stop functions cause the machine to begin or pause therapy as needed the moment a user breathes into a mask or takes it off. This can be especially helpful if you need to wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom.
- Pressure Relief: Many standard CPAP devices now include pressure relief systems that partially reduce delivered air pressure during exhalation. Though the pressure reduction isn’t as significant as if you were using a BiPAP machine, it can make nighttime breathing more comfortable.
- Online Monitoring Tools: Many modern CPAP devices feature some form of digital connectivity, with wi-fi and Bluetooth functionality allowing the machine to deliver reports to CPAP users and their physicians. Nightly reports allow you to monitor therapy compliance and effectiveness, and give you a better idea of how you are doing with your sleep therapy. These reports can also alert you to any issues that are keeping your treatment from being as effective as it should be.
- Self-Diagnostic Tools: As with any other device, there is always a chance that something could go wrong while using your CPAP machine. Thankfully, most machines now include troubleshooting tools that allow you to quickly identify and correct the problem. Some machines even include diagnostic options like a mask fit check, which helps users check for leaks in their mask.
Your CPAP Mask
While CPAP machines tend to get a lot of attention, your CPAP mask will prove just as important for the success of your sleep apnea therapy. The right mask should fit snugly, yet comfortably against your face. This will prevent leaks and skin irritation, ensuring that you get the delivered air pressure you need. The mask itself is held in place with a frame/headgear. Users should choose a size that fits their face shape to ensure a proper fit.
To better account for different individuals’ sleep positions and breathing habits, there are three primary types of CPAP masks available. There is no true “one size fits all” solution to choosing a CPAP mask. You should find a mask that comfortably fits your facial structure and will minimize the risk of air leaks.
- Full Face Masks: Full face masks are the bulkiest of CPAP masks, covering both the nose and the mouth. As such, they are a good choice for people who breathe through their mouth or experience frequent congestion. Full face masks are also better suited for higher air pressure settings. Though good for people who sleep on their back, they are not suited for sleeping on one’s stomach. The larger size and weight make the mask a bad choice for individuals who struggle with claustrophobia. The large size can also make it hard to wear glasses or read before going to sleep.
- Nasal Masks: Nasal masks use a smaller, triangular mask that fits over the nose and upper lip. Many different styles of nasal masks are available, which makes it easier for users to find a mask that fits their face shape. The suction created by the nasal mask also helps keep it in place, even for those who roll around a lot during their sleep. Though they can comfortably deliver higher air pressure, they are not recommended for people who breathe through the mouth or experience frequent sinus blockages.
- Nasal Pillows: For individuals who dislike the feel of bulkier masks against their face, nasal pillows could be a great alternative. The small “pillows” are inserted into the nostrils, so users can wear glasses, watch TV, or read before bed. Nasal pillows tend to be less likely to result in air leaks, especially for men with facial hair. This design is also well-suited for claustrophobic individuals. However, nasal pillows are usually not recommended when higher air pressure is needed, as the direct airflow can prove uncomfortable and even contribute to nosebleeds.
CPAP Machine Maintenance
While daily use of your CPAP machine is important, you must also take steps to clean and maintain your device. Proper maintenance will prevent air leaks and minimize your risk for respiratory illnesses, ensuring that you get the desired outcome from your treatment.
Cleaning is a daily concern for CPAP users. The easiest option is to use a CPAP sanitizer like the SoClean 2 Automated CPAP Cleaner and Sanitizer or the VirtuCLEAN CPAP Mask Automatic Cleaner. These devices allow you to connect your mask, tubing, and humidifier chamber to the sanitizer, which then uses activated oxygen to eliminate germs.
If you don’t want to spend the extra money for a sanitizing device, you should either use CPAP disinfectant wipes, or follow manufacturer recommendations for washing your equipment by hand. CPAP masks and tubing should be washed in warm, soapy water, rinsed, and allowed to air dry. Regardless of which cleaning method you choose, daily cleaning will prevent bacterial buildup and contamination from dust and allergens.
In addition to daily cleaning, you should also be mindful of ongoing part replacements that will be needed for various CPAP accessories. While the machine itself should be expected to function just fine for at least five years, other components associated with your therapy will need to be replaced on a regular basis.
For example, masks and tubing typically need to be replaced every three months. The headgear, chinstrap, humidifier chamber, and non-disposable filters should usually be replaced after six months. Some components need to be replaced even more often — disposable filters are usually replaced on a monthly basis, and nasal cushions may need to be replaced as frequently as every two weeks.
Always check the manufacturer guidelines for the exact replacement schedule for your equipment. Replacing these materials in a timely manner will help prevent air leaks, bacterial buildup, and other issues that could compromise the effectiveness of your therapy.
Many CPAP machines can be set to provide reminders for when various pieces of equipment need to be replaced. Rather than waiting until something needs to be replaced to order its replacement, it may also be helpful to order replacement bundle packs well in advance. This way, you can quickly take care of any needed maintenance as soon as your CPAP machine gives you an alert.
Get Started With the Right CPAP Machine!
Whether you need a standard CPAP machine or a BiPAP or Auto-adjusting device, one thing is certain: the sooner you start taking steps to control your sleep apnea, the sooner you will be able to once again enjoy feeling fully rested in the morning.
As helpful as a CPAP machine can be, however, there is no denying that getting set up with all the equipment you need can be somewhat expensive, especially if you don’t have a health insurance policy that will help cover the costs.
This is where Help Medical Supplies can make a difference. We offer a wide selection of CPAP machines and accessories from top brands like ResMed, Philips Respironics, and DeVilbiss Healthcare. Many of these are available at special discounted prices that allow you to save hundreds or even thousands of dollars on your purchase. We also offer discounts on masks, CPAP sanitizers, and other accessories.
You can save even more with our bundle packs, or by taking advantage of our available financing to split your purchase into more affordable monthly payments. We also offer free shipping on all orders over $89.
Whether you are buying your very first CPAP machine or need to stock up on replacement tubes and filters, we have you covered. With our help, getting the quality night’s sleep you need can be accomplished without breaking the bank.